Accounts Differ on Raid in Baghdad
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
BAGHDAD, March 20 -- The U.S. military, Iraqi government officials and witnesses here offered conflicting accounts Tuesday of whether several people killed during a Baghdad raid Monday night were armed insurgents or civilians gathered at a mosque.
According to a U.S. military statement, Iraqi soldiers assisting in a search for insurgents entered the Imam al-Abass mosque in Hurriyah, a formerly mixed Baghdad neighborhood that is now a stronghold of the Shiite Mahdi Army, before 9 p.m. Monday. About 50 people were detained as a search of the area continued. They were later released, the military said.
After the search, the statement said, a separate group of about 20 armed men attacked Iraqi and U.S. soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades and guns. The soldiers returned fire, killing three insurgents; three other armed men were detained, the military said. Military aircraft participated in the raid but did not fire, the statement said.
But Col. Mahmoud Abdul Hussein of Iraq's Interior Ministry said six civilians were killed and seven wounded when U.S. helicopters fired on homes after coming under attack from armed men. Another ministry spokesman, Sami Jabarah, said late Tuesday that the casualties had risen to eight killed and 11 wounded.
Two witnesses described indiscriminate shooting, but no helicopter fire, by U.S. forces that resulted in the deaths of at least six civilians, including some armed guards.
Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a military spokesman, said in response to an e-mail query that the military would "research" the incident.
Mohammed Abu Rouaa, 31, said he was inside the mosque commemorating the anniversary of the death of the prophet Muhammad when he heard shots strike the outside of the building, where other people were gathered. More than 20 American soldiers entered, rounded up those inside and took them for questioning to a nearby school, where they remained for about four hours, he said. As he passed by, he saw several people with gunshot wounds lying on the ground outside, he said.
Abu Rouaa and a Hurriyah district spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said they were told the American soldiers shot at the mosque's armed guards when the guards tried to prevent them from entering the site. The guards returned fire and a fierce shootout began, they said. Abu Rouaa said six people were killed, including two guards.
Ali Hussein Ali, 36, who said he was leaving the mosque when the troops arrived, said U.S. soldiers began spraying bullets around the area and hitting people at random. He ran for cover in a house, he said, and heard gunfire continue for several hours.
"People were terrified, even we grown-up men," Ali said. "The mosques, through their loudspeakers, started to shout, 'God is greatest,' to calm the people."
While it remains unclear what happened, the incident underscored the fragile nature of the U.S. military's ongoing efforts to secure Baghdad by sending soldiers to frequently patrol the most volatile neighborhoods, where militants often mix with civilians.
Nassar al-Robae, leader of Sadr's political faction in Iraq's parliament, said the incident demonstrated that the security crackdown is not working. "It increases fears that what is being done is not security and stability but chaos, only chaos," Robae said. He said Hurriyah residents told him that civilians were killed in the raid and that American helicopters bombed the area.